Whether it’s for purely altruistic purposes or for a big, fat tax break, many of us have been known to give to charity — especially around the High Holy Days. Most of us choose a handful of pet causes, sign our names to a few checks and forget about them until next year’s Yom Kippur approaches. Not Yosef Birnboim. The 30-year-old gives tzedakah nearly every time he turns on his computer.
Ruth Mastron had been in Israel only a few days last March when reports of the terrorist attack on Jerusalem’s Mercaz Harav yeshiva hit the news. The 53-year-old, who just minutes earlier was reveling in her very first trip to the Holy Land, was horrified. But she also realized that it’s because of tragedies like these that her newest venture is so crucial.
It doesn’t seem like Mutsuyo the Japanese dancer and Norman the Jewish businessman have much in common at the start of Kyoko Yokoma’s documentary, “Dancing With Lives.” Yet there they are onscreen, getting married. In a few minutes time, their stories unfold and all becomes clear. Mutsuyo lost her entire family in 1995 in a devastating earthquake in Kobe that killed thousands. Norman is the youngest child of Holocaust survivors; their eldest son died during World War II. Both are victims of tragedies that simultaneously befell and spared them. The emotional documentary, which follows Mutsuyo to Japan and back, and checks in with the downtown-dwelling Manhattan couple in the weeks following September 11, 2001, will be screened at the New York International Independent Film Festival on March 5.
When a Torah scroll is so faded or damaged that it can no longer be used, Jewish law states that, like the dearly departed, it is to be buried. But Spiritual Artifacts, a California-based company, hopes to bring new life to presumed-dead Torahs by putting them on display for all to see and offering them up for sale.
Orthodox Jewish Women flock to Shumalis Soffer’s makeshift laser-hair removal salon in Brooklyn for baby-smooth bikini lines. In this profile, Soffer goes from working as a laser technician in a Midtown Manhattan outfit to treating 500 clients in her own basement.
Judaism is a religion that thrives on rituals. We light candles before the Sabbath, recite special prayers before drinking wine and, most inexplicably, eat Chinese food on Christmas. In her forthcoming book “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food” (to be published by Twelve in March 2008), New York Times reporter Jennifer 8. Lee seeks out the origin of the chosen people’s chow mein mania. In her quest, she uncovers the truth about Washington, D.C.’s Great Kosher Duck Scandal of 1989, travels to China to meet with the lost Chinese Jews of Kaifeng and learns that Confucius might not have anything at all to say about the matter. Leah Hochbaum Rosner spoke with the author to find out why Jews who don’t light Sabbath candles and who omit the pre-wine blessings still make time for Chinese food — on Jesus’ birthday and throughout the year.
At a variety show held earlier this month at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women, an audience composed entirely of ladies sat in rapt attention as female performer after female performer sang, danced and acted her heart out. Many of the women onstage had not performed in a long time. The talent sang about God and Jerusalem and about the importance of family. They danced to convey messages of spirituality and mysticism. Many wore ankle-skimming skirts and long-sleeved shirts. Those who were married wore headscarves, hats or wigs. The production, “Shir LaMaalote” (Hebrew for “Song To Elevate”), was the second performance put on by Atara, an association of Torah observant artists. The new group’s mission is to bring Orthodox female artists — who, according to Jewish laws of modesty, cannot perform in front of adult males — out of the shadows and back into the spotlight. At least in front of other women, that is.
At a fashion show at Manhattan’s Kleinfeld Bridal late last month, Israeli designer Pnina Tornai showed off her 2008 collection. Inspired by Edith Piaf’s famous love song “La Vie en Rose” (“Life in Pink”), the white wares featured floral accents on Tornai’s signature corset designs. A bejeweled gown with spaghetti straps and a scalloped hem elicited applause, and a silk pantsuit adorned with ribbons and flowers left some folks oohing and aahing. The packed audience included designers, would-be brides and a smattering of seemingly unlikely attendees: Orthodox Jews. According to a Kleinfeld insider, newly engaged female members of the tribe have long been drawn to the store. But in a city where bridal shops abound, how has Kleinfeld managed to become — and, more importantly, remain — so iconic in the Jewish realm?
Not every Jew has had a bar or bat mitzvah. Not every Jew has attended a Passover Seder. Not every Jew has planted a tree in Israel. But if there is one thing that brings together virtually all Jews — and large swaths of non-Jews — it is “Hava Nagila.”
For his first book, “The Know-It-All” (Simon & Schuster, 2004), Esquire editor A.J. Jacobs tasked himself with reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica — from “a-ak” to “zywiec” — to become the smartest person in the world. When it came time for him to pen a second work, he wanted to immerse himself in something even more daunting, so he chose the most off-putting work of them all: the Bible. For an entire year, Jacobs, a self-professed agnostic, did his best to live a godly life, documenting his project in a new memoir, “The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible” (Simon & Schuster, 2007). During the year, Jacobs followed rules both obvious (refraining from thievery and murder) and obscure (playing a 10-string harp). Leah Hochbaum Rosner spoke with the author about the thrills of stoning an adulterer (with pebbles), shooing a mother bird away before taking an egg from beneath her and whether or not he’d ever again grow a beard of biblical proportions.